Mark Twain is a brilliant American writer. Everyone knows this. I feel as though most Americans have limited exposure to Twain, mainly ending at Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Certainly, this was the limit of my knowledge of Twain until I read this particular work. It should be added to a list of general books that children in school read. It was vastly entertaining and instructive. Twain has done a great thing by not only making a work immensely funny, but also by using it as a platform for discussing an American’s unique way of viewing things and shining light on some of our own prejudices.
One thing that was very interesting to read was how The Boss, our Connecticut Yankee, was always keen to be rid of the Catholic Church. Twain always refers to it as the Established Church, but the meaning is very plain. The Boss would much rather have an American style of religion, that is to say, a multitude of different denominations, all fighting to convert others to their particular brand of Christianity. Twain would seem to be a consummate American here, in determining that the American way is the best way of doing things and so, The Boss goes about reforming medieval England to be similar to nineteenth century America, religion and all.
The struggle with the Church is a central motif throughout the work. The Boss is constantly trying to subvert the Church, without anyone ever noticing. He feels that he can do this by simply educating people, bringing electricity, the telephone, newspapers and gunpowder to medieval England and the Church will dissolve away. There is never an obvious confrontation in the book between The Boss and the Church, but it is in the background throughout.
To my mind, the most interesting thing about this work was the way that Twain really seemed to get into the mindset of a person during this time period. As anyone who has studied history can tell you, this can be one of the most difficult things to do. Studying the past is almost like studying another country. There are language barriers, as The Boss encountered. But, more seriously there are mentality barriers. The mentality of people from a different time is completely different. The way people think, their basic assumptions about the world, everything is fundamentally different. This is something that Twain has done well in this work and a feat not easily accomplished.
This would be a reason for me to read this work. By reading Twain, and understanding how he came to understand the mentality of the people he wrote about, we can begin to see how we can figure out people from the past and people around us. Twain’s skill in determining the mindset of others around him can be translated into an empathetic outlook that can only benefit us in innumerable ways. If we can be more empathetic and understand that people see things differently than we do, then we can begin to live in a more humane, just world.